From the Harbour Town Lighthouse to Bluffton, and everything in between.
Hilton Head has a lot to offer beyond the crowds and resorts. This driving tour captures the essence of our cherished Lowcountry. At the break of dawn, savor a bite for breakfast and then pack the car to make a day of it. Don’t worry, there’s plenty of time left in your stay for napping under an umbrella. This trip involves only about an hour of driving, but has miles of fun.
Start in Harbour Town, nestled in Sea Pines Plantation, one of the island’s first developments. There you can begin the morning climbing the steps of the iconic red and white striped lighthouse. Once at the top, take a moment to smell the salty Atlantic breeze and watch boats pass lazily near the horizon. Before you leave, take a moment to let kids play in the tree house fort just beyond the shops. Speaking of treehouses, take a drive along Deer Island Rd, located behind the shops. There, you’ll see the curious octagonal villas that embody developer Charles Fraser’s vision for the island.
After Harbour Town and Deer Island, head to the Sea Pines Forest Preserve, the island’s greenest patch, located across from Lawton Stables. Here, you’ll walk among moss-draped oaks with a good chance of spotting an alligator sunbathing along a pond. Look closely between the trees to spot an enormous banana spider. Take the boardwalk over the vanishing swamp and end your stroll at the Indian Shell Ring, a 4,000-year-old remnant of the island’s first oyster lovers.
Next, pack in the car and head out of Sea Pines, back to U.S, 278, and grab a quick lunch at The Sea Shack for some casual fare, or stop at Holy Tequila for some upscale Mexican dining and drinks. At the traffic circle, take Palmetto Bay Road and continue over the Cross Island Bridge for that postcard view, well worth the $1.25 toll.
Take the Gum Tree Road exit and you will find yourself on the “north island,” where you can head to the Coastal Discovery Museum. The museum is set amid 68 acres of the old Honey Horn plantation. Explore exhibits about the region’s storied history as well as paths that highlight the local flora and fauna. There are kid-oriented events as well as a lovely butterfly habitat. To learn about the Gullah culture, be sure to call ahead and set up an appoint with the the Gullah Museum of Hilton Head. There you can learn about Gullah customs, traditions, language, stories, songs and structures on Hilton Head.
Post museum, drive to Beach City Road to find the remnants of historic Mitchelville, the first self-governing community of freed slaves. Wander through the hallowed open grounds and imagine life under the oaks that still stand from that time. From the parking area, follow the path to a platform on the marsh, perfect for spotting a heron. Then, continue along the forest paths that lead to an uncrowded stroll along Mitchelville Beach. Take your shoes off and let the sand between your toes remind you that you’ve arrived. Watch the seagulls dip into the ocean and let your eyes peer deep into the Atlantic horizon.
Time for one last destination. Head off island and cross over Broad Creek towards Calhoun Street in Old Town Bluffton. Walk the Old Town and Promenade, end your day with dinner at one of the many restaurants and stroll down to watch the sun set on the vast marshland of the May River. Look up and let the osprey remind you there’s no place like the Lowcountry.